Story and photos: Colleen Nicholson
There’s nothing quite like the cold, dispirited stare of your designated driver to take a little bit of the joy out of a wine tasting.
It needn’t be like this, of course. There are options beyond high-stakes games of rock-paper-scissors for the passenger seat. Among them: you could book a tour bus. Or pace yourself and enjoy an invigorating cycle between locations (a quintessentially romantic option, although if, like me, you’re used to short city jaunts on two wheels, you may find you have a new and unnerving appreciation for just how long a gravel acre is by the second or third tasting room.) Or, you could always, well, …spit.
Luckily for us, over at Huff Estates they solved the wine enthusiasts’ dilemma in a number of ways. Almost ten years ago they opened beautiful, ranch-style accommodations on the property. There are twenty-one airy rooms tucked among the vines here, many offering walk-out patios, spacious beds, fireplaces and views of the vineyard. (Available conference rooms make this a popular choice for corporate retreats, too.)
Essentially, Huff Estates has created an elegant, mini-theme park for wine lovers on their 15-acre property in Prince Edward County. Alongside the inn and tasting room, there’s a restaurant, and an indoor/outdoor art gallery. Regular music events are hosted on site. (Check the schedule on their website for what’s playing; we happened upon the Jazz festival in progress upon our arrival.) For guests looking to use the inn as a home-away-from-home base and explore the region, half- and full-day tours can be arranged on site with PEC Wine Tours.
Unsurprisingly, it’s here in the bathroom of the so-called Seaside Suite, as I played with the jacuzzi jet’s heady stream of water with my toes, that I came to the conclusion that this, indisputably, is the best way to truly experience a winery: Enjoy a tasting, explore some art, and wake up with the sun peeking over the grape-ladened vines in your backyard. (Bring a hot-from-the-iron breakfast buffet waffle back to your room to complete the spell.)
As if I needed more convincing, a new addition this year is an outdoor wood-fire pizza oven, with rumoured plans to install a smaller, indoor version to satisfy demands beyond the summer season. A phone call quickly fills a front patio table with hungry friends. I take advantage of a rarely-provided option for lactose-free cheese and then, fearlessly, devour a modified “Winemaker’s Fave” pizza with a refreshing glass of Pinot Gris. (Okay, two refreshing glasses. And the Rose.)
Art lovers will appreciate the well-curated collection of Oeno Gallery. Outside, creative gems flung about the property reveal themselves like steel and copper easter-eggs. From the playful, interactive “Shout” sculpture by Terence McGlade (have a listen across the garden at the companion “Hear the World” piece), to Charles Patcher’s edgy cliff-diving “Moose Plunge” that resides near the entrance to the tasting room.
Inside the gallery, I’m delighted by contemplative, minimalist colour studies by David Cantine. (For years, Cantine has methodically explored the same still life subject with subtle but impactful hue variations). In all, about 60 artists are represented by Oeno. But this is not a static display, the art is available for interested buyers and changes regularly, new garden installations are made in early-May, and artists should look for an open call for submissions in December. (Plus, visitors who find out the name of their landscaper should email me.)
If the whole thing feels like an unpushy approach to a relaxing getaway, that may have something to do with their wine ethos. Jason Sharpe, General Manager at Huff, tells me on a tour of the barrel room that their goal is to “guide the grape” through the winemaking process. For the creators and the locally-born owners behind these award-winning vintages, it’s less about leaving their individual mark and more about letting the natural character of the land and the grape shine.
And do they ever.
Good to know: 50 cases of Huff Estates’s 2016 Cab Franc just went into LCBO Vintages; if you’re in the Toronto region keep an eye on the shelves.